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Rockets wilt to injured Pelicans, lose 121-116

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The Rockets crumbled against a team they should have beaten.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

In the game thread, I called out a nasty habit of the Houston Rockets of playing to the level of their opponent. They often struggle with teams they should be beating cleanly, and that was the case again tonight.

The Rockets did jump out to a 15-point lead in the first half, coming out with energy, diving for loose balls, and cashing threes, but that quickly dissipated as the game went on and was non-existent for the vast majority of the second half. And the defense crumbled too.

Houston had no answer for the New Orleans Pelicans inside, as they were outscored in the paint 70-40, and they let Jahlil Okafor rumble for 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots.

As a whole, the Rockets allowed New Orleans to shoot 51 percent from the field on the night, and this performance becomes all the more unacceptable when you realize that Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, and E’twaun Moore were all absent from the New Orleans lineup.

The Pels closed the third quarter up 94-91 after dominating Houston in the period, and they turned on the jets even further to go up by 12 as the game closed down. The panicked Rockets came close to getting New Orleans to cough this one up in the closing minute, but it was too little too late, and they just weren’t good enough tonight. Make no mistake, this was an ugly loss.

Houston was led by James Harden, who had 37 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals, but his shot was off all night, and he went just 11-32 from the field and 6-18 from three. He did look tired in the closing moments to me, and you have to wonder if the heavy workload is starting to weigh on him a bit.

Chris Paul has yet to find his mojo since coming back from injury, scoring just 10 points to go along with 9 assists on 4-9 shooting, and he just wasn’t enough of a factor offensively when it was obvious The Beard wasn’t on his shooting game and was being doubled a lot of the evening. The Rockets are going to need Paul to be better.

The Beard did get some help from Kenneth Faried, who continues to impress in the box score, going for 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks, and from Eric Gordon, who had 17 points, but was just 4-12 from beyond the arc.

In addition to Okafor’s big night, New Orleans also got 19 points, 8 assists, and a ridiculous 6 blocks from Jrue Holiday. He played tough defense on James Harden all night. They also got 15 from Ian Clark, 14 from Darius Miller, and 10 points and 10 assists from Tim Frazier.

The Rockets fall to 29-21 on the year with the defeat, and their three-game winning streak was also broken. They’re now off until Friday, when they travel to Denver for the first game of a difficult back-to-back set, and they’re going to have to figure out some interior defense, which continues to be a problem without Clint Capela.

And they’re going to have to figure out how to get the most out of CP3 as he works his way back. Teams are going to continue to attack and try to force the ball out of Harden’s hands or force him into difficult shots. They need a healthy and engaged Paul to step up and make them pay. We’ll see on Friday night.